“It was love at first sight,” Graham said, climbing up on the piano in his sock feet to light the chandelier.
“Excuse me, it was not.” Elizabeth tossed a thin cloth like frothed gold over the table and set golden candlesticks on it.
“It was for me,” Graham said, fire in his hands, laughing down at her from the piano. “I’m only speaking for myself.”
“Even for himself he isn’t telling the truth,” Elizabeth said to us, her silvery dress catching the light every way she moved. Her quick fingers lit the candles and her breath carried away the match’s fire almost before we saw her strike it against the box, yet she never seemed to hurry.
“How do you know what I felt when I first saw you?” Graham asked, climbing down from the piano and dancing a little jig in the freedom of his socks before bending down to put his shoes back on.
“You told me.” She turned to us, always the perfect hostess, involving us in their banter, when Graham would have forgotten we were standing by. “The night we met he said I was a silly little girl who ought to be at home on my father’s knee and that my dress would have been better off to live out the rest of its days in the museum where I got it.” She laughed.
“Good grief, did you really say that?” Barnaby Ingles asked from deep within a chair. Everywhere Barnaby went he did a circle around the room, sitting in every chair until he found the deepest one, but he had been to Graham and Elly’s so often he was practically a fixture. No one else ever sat in that chair for fear of sitting on him, even when he wasn’t in it.
“It would be ugly to call my wife a liar, sir, so I suppose I must admit it. However,” and Graham made a face at her, “I loved her all the same.”
“What was wrong with your dress?” I asked Elly.
“Nothing, dear, except his imagination. He wanted me to feel small and old-fashioned. Actually it was a dream of a dress; all floating pink with pink pearl bead off-the-shoulder sleeves. A very appropriate dress for a girl of my age.” She tossed him a look that was meant to be defiant, but turned at once into a smile. No one could help smiling at Graham, and Elly was terrifically in love with him.
“All this talk of love makes my stomach hurt,” Roger Benton said, low, because even he wouldn’t upset Elly. As if he could have.
“I would like to be married in pink,” Sally Rufus said, who would like to be married any way she could. “Colors at weddings are getting to be the thing.”
“Are they?” Elly said, glancing at Graham, I think warning him not to say something smart, “I haven’t been to a wedding in ever so long.”
“I have,” Sally said eagerly, “I attended Rachel Devin’s last week, and it was the last word! All the bridesmaids wore turquoise and even had turquoise shoes, and Rachel wore white but she had a blue sash and blue rosebuds in her hair.”
“Oh,” Barnaby said within the chair, and it came out as a moan. Roger didn’t say anything, but he sat down on the couch as if it were the end of the road for him, and there was no point in staying standing up.
“I remember Rachel,” Mabel Walker said, “She was a pretty girl.” The way she said it, you could tell that was the only nice thing she could think of to say. Mabel always says the nice thing, even if she has a hundred bad things to choose from and one nice one; she always says the nice one. I think that’s why Graham approves of her as a friend for Elly, besides the fact that Mr. Walker went to college with him and is one of the most brilliant and humble men the world has ever seen. That’s what Elly says about him. She hates vain men; especially vain men who have nothing to be vain about.
“What were you thinking, Graham? If you loved her, why insult her?” This came from Barnaby, who sat up a little straighter, as Roger sank further down.
“What did I have to be afraid of?” Graham said, grinning that grin of his that reaches into you and makes you profoundly grateful to be his acquaintance. “I knew she was in love with me.”
“Ha!” Elly said, rolling her eyes at me and loving it all. Terence Walker laughed.
“What?” Graham said, turning to him, affronted, “Don’t believe me?”
“I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard that a man will purposely make a girl angry to get her to notice him if he can’t rely on his charm.”
“Now here’s a man of sense,” Elly said, toasting him with an invisible glass.
“Is love always so complicated?” Sally asked hopefully.
“No,” Mabel said, glancing at Terence and smiling to herself.
“Love is always complicated and never complicated,” Elly said, as if she were the expert, which would have been annoying in anyone else, but was sweet in her.
“Love,” Roger repeated dismally from the couch.
“Just wait,” Elly warned him, nodding knowingly, while he put his hands up to shield his heart.
Elly went out then to bring in refreshments, and I went to help. Graham smiled at me, like I had just made his day by performing this small, ordinary service that anyone would have done for his wife. I don’t know why Graham approves of me as a friend for Elly. I’m not in such innocent need of improving as Sally, and I’m not good like the Walkers or amusing like Barnaby and Roger, but I am fiercely loyal to Elly. And I was the only one of Elly’s friends who encouraged her to marry Graham because she loved him. But she would have anyway. No one could have stopped her. But she loved me for supporting her, and maybe he did too. I’m awfully dull, though, and Graham and Elly can’t stand for anything to be dull.
We arranged the paper plates and napkins under the peanut butter orange wedges Elly and Graham always served. We all loved them, partly because we never had them anywhere else. One of them had invented it, but neither would ever tell which it was. “Elly,” I said, “Did you really love Graham at first sight?”
“Oh honey, it doesn’t work like that. I mean, I was attracted to him. My heart started beating, if you know what I mean, but you can’t love a person that quick. What if he had been a big stinker?” She spun around, as if she were wearing a dress that was all floating pink. Her dark hair shone in the dim kitchen like the moon on a midnight river, and her bare arms moved like music.
“Some people marry big stinkers,” I said.
“Because they didn’t know what love was,” Elly said. Suddenly she was serious. Her eyes, bright from thinking of Graham, stopped sparkling. “Don’t ever let that happen to you, Luna.” But then she laughed. “I’m silly; you would never make a mistake like that.”
“I wouldn’t?” I said.
“Because I have you to advise me?”
“What are you two talking about?” Sally asked, coming in, and taking a glass of cider so thick you could see the apples in it, and sipping it like she was a queen. “I hope it’s love. No matter about Roger. I mean, it’s appropriate to talk about love on an occasion like this, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” Elly said, winking at me. “Let’s take these out before Roger starves to death. His stomach isn’t hurting from love talk, I’ll bet.”
When we got back to the dining room and parlor, Graham was playing the piano, and Terence and Mabel were dancing, while Barnaby and Roger were shouting occasional short comments across the space between chair and couch about politics, even though neither one of them ever did anything about the state of the nation. Sally clapped her hands at the music and went to drag Barnaby out of his chair because he was better than nothing. Elly and I laughed as Barnaby danced like a piece of wood, while Sally moved around him, swaying double-time.
“That leaves Roger for me, I guess,” I said. He heard me, and jumped as if I’d stuck him with a pin.
“Never fear,” Elly said, “It’s time for some chocolate peanut butter oranges.” Graham whirled around on the piano bench and jumped up. “Chocolate peanut butter oranges!” He shouted for no reason except it made everyone double over laughing.
“You, sir,” Elly said, “are a ridiculous fellow.” He stuck an orange in her mouth. She stuck her tongue out at him, covered in chocolate and peanut butter and he tipped her over and kissed her.
We drank toasts then, even though Barnaby said we should wait until after dinner, but Elly said he could always do more after dinner if he wanted. We toasted their happiness, we toasted three years, we toasted his success, or Roger did, but Graham waved that away. Mabel made a toast that she whispered in Elly’s ear and it made Elly blush and laugh, and even though we hadn’t heard it we all drank to it anyway. Then Terence stepped forward and lifted his nearly empty glass.
“To love at first sight,” he said, “if this is what comes of it.” We drained our glasses, and everyone was still a moment, tasting the thick apple sweetness in our mouths. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine I was standing under the apple trees behind the house where I grew up, a sticky windfall core still in my hand, the biting fall taste on my lips.
“Now for dinner,” Elly said, “I know all of you are wonderfully fashionable people, but that you won’t mind that we aren’t. We didn’t want to cook today, so we’re having sandwiches.”
“But are they glorious sandwiches?” Graham asked, and answered himself, “They are. They are the poetry of sandwiches. They will fill you with summer picnics and fishing expeditions and Fourth of July speeches on the grass and sky and fireflies—
“Mr. Shakespeare, I think these fine people would like to see for themselves,” Elly said, putting her arm through his and pulling him out to the kitchen, brushing away our offers of help.
“They’re awfully sweet,” Sally said when they’d gone. It was the best thing she’d said that night.
“Sure, sure, very sweet.” Roger said, sitting back down.
“Is it luck? Can anyone be that happy?” Sally asked. Terence and Mabel looked at each other and seemed about to speak, and decided not to. None of the rest of us even tried to answer.
They came back, laughing, carrying huge plates of sandwiches, enough for if the long table had been surrounded by guests. We all helped set out the plates, blue glass plates, like we were going to eat off stained glass windows. I remembered when Graham and Elly lived in their tiny house on Winchester Street. Elly and I had lunch together, and we ate off plain chinaware that Graham had painted with roses and forget-me-nots and daisies. Elly danced as she set them out, touching each one, running her hands across the brushstrokes. Now, when Barnaby dropped a blue glass plate and it shattered, she and Graham laughed and swept it up and I’m sure never thought of it again.
The sandwiches weren’t what I would have called poetry, but they were glorious. Piled high with slices of cold meats and tomatoes and cheese and the bread fresh and good, slathered in a spicy orange sauce. Roger cheered up considerably after three. Then Elly brought out a big bowl of pink ice-cream and we ate mounds of it, the level of the bowl never seeming to go down. After that we sat on the chairs and couches, stuffed, but Graham and Elly, never to be gotten down, put a record on the record player and danced in the corner, all of us watching and them not caring. Their mouths moved as they said smart and stupid things to each other and laughed and Graham kept staring at her, even while he teased her, like she was just the most amazing thing. And I thought that was probably why he had said those things to her when they met, and why she hadn’t really cared; because all the time he must have been looking at her like that.
After a while Roger left, then Barnaby and Sally, and at last the Walkers. I stood to go. Elly pulled me close, her silvery dress sliding smooth against my arms. She thanked me for coming, as if I’d done her a favor, and Graham bowed to me like a king and then grinned when Elly poked him. I told them not to come with me to the door, and as I walked down the drive, past the window, I looked in. They had cranked the music up; I could hear it creeping out between the panes of glass. They had taken off their shoes and were dancing on top of the piano. I wondered if Elly was imagining she was wearing a pink dress, and Graham was just looking across the room at her…